About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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By Faith (ch. 11:1-39)

 

Hebrews 11 is the famous "faith chapter" that every preacher preaches on sooner or later in his ministry.  The chapter outlines many Old Testament people who lived their lives by trusting God, as we should be doing today. 

 

The chapter begins with this verse.  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see."  As I often say, faith in its simplest definition means to trust, as in to trust our lives with Jesus.  Therefore the author of this letter is telling his readers that true trust in Jesus is being sure of what we hope for and certain about those things that canít be been seen, or, we do not have. 

 

Thus faith is a present reality.  We are trusting Jesus for something that He has promised us in the future.  Faith is related to hope. We can hope for something to come about in the future, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Hope is actually a New Testament virtue we should possess.  Faith is a strong hope.  Faith is being sure that what you are hoping for will come about.  This faith is still futuristic.  Faith is still being sure of something that has not yet come true for us.  Part of the idea this verse presents us with is that we do not get all of what God has promised the day we become a Christian.  Salvation is a process that ends when Jesus transforms our earthly body into a heavenly body like His own. 

 

Hope is a godly virtue, as I have said.  It is a certain expectation that what God has promised will some day be realized.  Biblical hope is not like worldly hope where people hope to win the lottery.  Biblical hope is based on the reliability of God.    

 

Those of the Ultra or Hyper Faith persuasion suggest to us that the faith seen here means that we are to act as if what we are hoping for has already happened.  This is not Biblical.   This verse says nothing like that.  This verse speaks of faith being connected to hope, and that hope is futuristic.  It speaks of believing in Jesus even though we do not have what we are believing Him for.  We should not make this verse say something it does not say as those of the Hyper Faith teaching say. 

 

There is another thing to consider when it comes to Biblical faith, especially as it applies to the book of Hebrews and this verse.  For the Jews, faith did mean trust, but beyond that it meant a life of faithfulness.  It's not a one time trust in God.  It's a daily trust in God that makes us faithful to Him.  That is very important when thinking of Biblical faith.  

 

I often hear people say "I need more faith," as if faith is something that you can reach out and get more of.  When faith is expressed this way, it paints the picture that faith is reaching out, pushing the envelope so to speak, and aggressively attempting to believe.  Faith is not that.  Faith is not aggressive in nature.  I view faith as a surrendering of ones self to God. I see faith as simply trusting, relaxing, or resting, because you are sure of your trust in God.  When we say that we need more faith, as if faith can be gotten, I believe we have the wrong concept of faith.  A better way of saying this would be, "I need to trust Jesus more," or, "I need to sit back and relax and allow Jesus to have His way with me."  This is why I say faith is more of surrender to Jesus than aggressive grasping.  The only aggressive aspect of faith would be the outworking of it, that is, stepping out and doing Godís will.  I am not suggesting that we should be passive in our lifestyle, because faith has a productive side to it.  True faith results in actions, yet, the actions are a result of trust, not aggressive attempts to believe, and especially not mental trickery that makes you think you have something you don't have, as Hyper Faith teaches.  When we have faith, we relax in Jesus as we do His will.           

 

When the writer uses the words, "certain of what we do not see," he could be speaking of one of two things.  He could be saying that we are certain of the things in the future that we donít see, or, he could be saying that we are certain of that unseen world around us in which Jesus is Lord.  Christian faith is in trust in God for that which we can't see.  Jesus commended Thomas and the rest of the disciples because they believed, but then He said that blessed are those who believe yet have not seen (John  20:29).  I believe Jesus was speaking of those who would believe after He left this world.  That's you and I who have handed our lives over to Jesus in a trusting relationship.  

 

In verse 2 the writer says that "this is what the ancients were commended for."  By this he means that many men and women in Old Testament days were spoken well of because of their trust in God, even though for many, they did not see the results of their trust.  Not all received what was being trusted for in theirs life.  Therefore, most of the remaining verses in this chapter are examples of these men and women of faith, who trusted God for what He had promised them but never received the promise in their lifetime.   

 

The first example the writer uses concerns God Himself in the process of creation.  Verse 3 says that we trust God that all things were made by His command.  The writer also says that the things that we can see that God made were not made from other visible things.  God merely spoke everything into existence.  God made something out of nothing.  He did not make something out of something.  As far as I am concerned this dispels the theory of evolution as seen in the Big Bang Theory.  God spoke all things in the universe into existence.  All things did not evolve after a big explosion.       

 

The first man of faith spoken of is in verse 4.  It is Abel.  He trusted God in his heart, and that's why he is seen as a man of faith.  Some say God accepted his sacrifice because it was an animal sacrifice, and Cain's wasn't.  I don't believe, at least at the moment, that is really the issue.  If you read the Genesis account carefully, you will see that God's acceptance of Abel was strictly a matter of the heart.  He had faith in his heart and Cain didn't.  

 

When it comes to sacrifices early in the book of Genesis, we know little about them.  There is actually no record of God telling people to give a sacrifice.  That does not mean He never told people to offer sacrifices.  It just means that we don't know exactly why people offered sacrifices.  We do know that a few chapters later on God told Abram to offer his one and only son as a sacrifice.  Of course, we know that in the end, God intervened and provided a lamb for a sacrifice.  So, by this time in human history, sacrifices as they pertained to God were being offered.  Again, we just aren't sure of the origin of these sacrifices.  We have a hint when God, in Genesis 3 killed an animal in order to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness, but, this was God killing an animal, not man.    

 

The author tells us that Abel speaks to us today, even though he is dead.  The way in which Abel speaks to us is through the Bible.  All that is written about him, and that includes here in Hebrews, in one sense of the word causes him and his life of faith to speak to us, as it has been as long as people have been reading the Bible.       

 

In verse 5 it says that Enoch, as he was taken up into Heaven, trusted God in the process.  This man according to the Old Testament account did not experience death.  Some people say that he did not die, why others say that his death is just not recorded.  The Genesis account also tells us that Enoch walked with God.  Walking with God implies having a trusting and faithful relationship with God.  Enoch trusted God.  He was so faithful to God and God just took Him to heaven without going through the process of death.  Enoch must have been a righteous man even though little is known about him.   

 

Verse 6 is often quoted in faith sermons.  It says, "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."  Simply put, we first must believe in Godís existence and then believe that He will reward us when we trust in Jesus, or, that He will give us what He has promised us.  Once again, our trust is in some future reward.  This is a future reward and therefore there is no hint of us having to act as if we have already received the reward.  Faith is daily trusting Jesus for our lives, for things in the moment, or for things in the future.  If the future things we trust Him for have not yet come about, we still trust in Him. 

 

Notice the word "earnestly" here in verse 6.  To me, this suggests an ongoing trust, even though we have not yet received what we are trusting God for.

 

Noah, as seen in verse 7 built the ark in "holy fear" because of his trust in God.  Note the words "holy fear."  This gives me the picture that while Noah was building the ark in front of all to see, he fearfully trusted God as he poured his life into this project.  It would not surprise me to know that even though Noah trusted God, at times he had some doubts, especially in the face of those who were watching him build a boat for no apparent reason.  Noah's trust in what God told him must have been strong to survive all of the ridicule he must have received by those watching him building a boat.  Remember, it had never rained before.  People didn't know what rain was.  They had no clue what a flood was.  For them, this was some stupid thing that Noah was doing.  Noah trusted God in the midst of a life of ridicule.

 

Verse 7 says that "by faith Noah condemned the world."  This might well mean that his very act of obedience of building this massive boat that people ridiculed was in fact an act of judgment that was realized when the rains and the flood came.         

 

The word "fear" that is used in verse 7 and elsewhere in the Bible does not simply mean reverence.  It means to be afraid.  In one real sense of the word, we need to be afraid of God.  For the most part, most of us aren't afraid of God.  Our lives prove that.  On the other hand, and to balance this, the one we fear is the one we love.  The one we run from in fear is the one we run to because of His loving wide open arms.       

 

Verse 8 tells us that Abraham trusted God when he was told to move his family to a new location.  Abraham believed God despite all of the uncertainties of this move.  He trusted that God was acting in His best interest with this request.  Really, God was acting in His own best interested that He wanted Abraham to participate in.  When God tells us to do something, we can trust Him that He will provide all we need to do what He wants us to do.  If, however, we do something that He has not told us to day, we can't logically or Biblically trust Him to give us something we need to accomplish our own will.     

 

In verse 9 and 10 we see that Abraham still had faith once he relocated in the land that God had promised him, but, even though he was in the land, the author said that he lived as a stranger because he was seeking a city that was built by God and not by man.  This tells me that the Promised Land is in fact prophetic of a future promised land that is not of this world, not made by humans, but by God Himself.    

 

In verse 11 we see that Abraham also trusted God and believed Him when he was told that he would have a son, even though Abraham was very old and his wife Sarah was way passed child bearing years.  This came about as God had promised.  The fulfillment of this promise has great significance for the salvation of man.   As we all know, this promise was fulfilled because of a miracle.

 

It is important to know that even though this chapter calls Abraham a man of faith, he had his struggles, as all of these people of faith would have had.  In fact, by the request of Sarah his wife, he had a son through Sarah's young slave girl.  This was an act of unbelief on the part of Abraham.  It appears that his faith in God's promise began to waver and therefore he attempted to solve the problem on his own.

 

Laying aside Abraham's act of disobedience did not nullify the promise of God.  As a matter of fact, if God has promised something, man's failures can never nullify what God has promised.  The author says that Abraham had many descendents as God promised.

 

Verse 13 is extremely important, especially in light of the Ultra Faith Movement that claims we should have pretty much everything right now.  Those who embrace Hyper Faith believe that we can speak things into existence as God Himself did at creation, and even though we may not visibly see the results, we should live and act as though the results have come true.  Thus, if you are sick, claim that you are already better, and go out and live as if you are already better even though in reality you are still sick.  This teaching states that prosperity and healing are for all of us today and if we aren't prosperous and in good health then we have a lack of faith in God.  If you have read any of my literature, you will know that I do not believe in this teaching.  I believe it's one of the most harmful doctrines in the western world church today.

 

Verse 13 says, "all these people were still living by faith when they died."  These people did not get what they believed for, yet they did not loose their trust in God.  The writer goes on to say, "they did not receive the things promisedÖ"  These people had great faith.  They trusted God and God was pleased, but they did not receive the things God promised them.  It was not in His timing.  Let me repeat it again.  They did not receive Godís promise.  They died believing something that did not come about.  What does this say to the Ultra Faith thinking that says you can get everything you want from God if you  believe, and if you donít get these things, then you donít believe?

 

This verse ends with the acknowledgment that those who did not receive what was promised lived as if they were aliens in this world.  The problem with western world Christians today is that they do not live as though they are aliens in the world.  They are too much in love with the world to live this way, but like Jesus, we should realize, and live as aliens because this world really is not our home.  So this is what verse 15 means when the author says that those who live as aliens in the world are looking for a place of their own.  That's a heavenly home that will eventually come down onto a new earth as seen at the end of the book of Revelation.

 

Verse 15 speaks of men like Abraham who left his home to the land that God had promised, and, when he, and they, got to that land, they still lived as aliens.  They could have returned home.  Of course that would have been out of God's will.  So, they lived as aliens until the day, as verse 16 says, they would enter their heavenly home.   

 

In verse 16 it says that these people "were longing for better things."  They did not receive an earthly reward, but that did not bother them.  They were waiting for a far better reward, one they could not see, one that would come to them in eternity.  The Greek word "orego" is the word that is translated as "longing" in the NIV, or "desire" in the KJV.  It means to ďstretch out forĒ, or "to reach for."  So in a figurative way these people were reaching out for a better reward. 

 

Verses 17 through 19 continue to speak of Abraham.  God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac his only son, the son God promised him that would carry on his lineage and turn Abraham's descendents into a great nation.   God's command to Abraham was a test of faith.  Could Abraham actually obey God in this matter, especially when Isaac was a promised miracle son?  This tells me that God can test us concerning the things He has promised us.  This also tells me that God's promises are not always immediately realized in the present.  They are often tested before they are realized.  This is something that many Christians in the Pentecostal Charismatic Movements sometimes miss in their theology.  

 

Before we leave Abraham, we should understand that he was far from perfect.  It is only his trust in God that allowed God to declare him as being righteous, and even his trust wavered.  Abraham left his homeland as God requested.  He had faith there, but Abraham did not go directly into Canaan as God asked.  Then once he got to Canaan , he did not stay.  He could not trust that God would keep him through the famine that was in Canaan, so he left for Egypt .  In Egypt he lied and told people that his wife was his sister in order to save himself from harm.  This resulted in Abraham giving his wife to the King of Egypt.  So you can see, God did not declare Abraham as being righteous because of what he did, but because he had a heart that wanted to trust God, even though that wavered at times.  Of course, Abraham sleeping with Sarah's slave girl Hagar was the biggest failure in his life.  Clearly, Abraham was not a righteous man.           

 

In verse 20 it says that "by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau." As Isaac prayed over his sons, he trusted His God to work out His will in their lives, as hard as that might have been at the time.  The ironic thing is that there was trickery involved in this blessing.  Isaac was giving the all important blessing to the wrong son, although he did not realize it because of his blindness, but I am sure that he knew his sons and the things they could be up to at any given time.  I think this could have easily required trust in God. 

 

Verse 21 continues on by saying that Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph.  This is still another example how God works with very imperfect people; Jacob understood the promises that God gave Abraham.  He understood that it was in his lineage that a great nation would some day exist.  Although Jacob did not see the fulfillment of this promise, like Abraham, he trusted that God's promises would some day be fulfilled.  From a Prophetic Futurist's viewpoint, these promises are yet to be fulfilled.     

 

Verse 22 concerns Joseph and on his death bed told the story of how the Jews escaped from Egypt .  He also gave instructions concerning how he should be buried once he died.  The text says that Joseph spoke by faith as he gave these instructions.  You might say, and probably should say, that all we do or say should be a result of our trust in Jesus.  Therefore, Joseph did everything, including speaking by faith, or by trusting in God, at the end of his life.  He did not give up his faith in God, even in his dying moments.  What a testimony it is to see a true believer speak the word of the Lord in faith moments before he dies. 

 

In verse 23 we see that the parents of Moses trusted in God as they hid there son for three months after hearing of the king's decree to kill all the young Hebrew children. They trusted that their God would look after them as well as Moses. This verse tells us that Moses' parents were not afraid of the king, but, even though they were not afraid of the king but trusted God, they still hid Moses.  This tells me that doing all we can do as we trust God is necessary and does not demonstrate a lack of faith as the Hyper Faith Movement would suggest.  Those of this movement might suggest that if Moses' parents had real faith, they would not have hid him from the king.  Apparently the author of the book of Hebrews does not see it that way.

 

In verse 24 we see that Moses chose to be associated with the people of God rather than the King of Egypt's family.  In so doing he suffered persecution instead of living in pleasure.  Through all of this he trusted in Christ, as the author says.  He felt trusting in Christ was more important than living the easy life.  The writer continues to say that this trust in God was evident as well when the Jews fled from Egypt .  They had lots to fear, but Moses did not fear the King, rather he trusted in His God.  This is a real example for Christians today.  It's very easy to trust in the world's system and to be influenced by it.  That should not be.  We trust God, no matter how tempting and easier it is to trust the world. 

 

The author tells us here that Moses trusted Christ.  Did he really trust Christ?  Did Moses know of Christ?  Did he know of a future Israeli Messiah who would be the Christ?  Just why the author says that Moses trusted Christ and not God might be debatable.  It might well be that the author is putting a New Testament spin on this in order to encourage his readers to not revert back to Old Testament Judaism. 

 

Our western world knows little about Christian persecution, but that is in the process of change.  Little by little, even in the West, Christians are beginning to suffer from an anti-Christ culture.  As time goes on, we will have to have the same attitude that Moses had.  We will gladly suffer for the sake of Christ, as these Hebrew believers were suffering, instead of caving into the world's demands on us that would make life much easier.       

 

In the midst of fleeing from the kingís army, the children of Israel came to the Red Sea .  They trusted God in their escape.  They didn't know how they'd cross the Red Sea , but God parted the waters for them.  People are looking for miracles today.  What we learn here is that in times of persecution, if we trust in Jesus, we will see the miraculous. 

 

Note in verse 27 that Moses persevered because he saw the invisible God.  God is invisible to us as well, but, unlike Moses, New Testament Christians have the Holy Spirit living within them.  We are in a much better place than Moses was in.  God is invisible to us, but we certainly  experience His reality in our lives.

 

Verse 28 tells us that by faith Moses obeyed God by keeping the Passover.  Just think of this.  Moses understood that the final judgment was about to drop on Egypt and that the king was very angry at him and the Jews.  You might think that Moses might have wanted to run ahead of God and leave the country instead of eating the Passover meal as commanded by God, but he didn't.  Now that is faith.

 

Again, verse 29 speaks to the escape of the Jews from Egyptian domination and the miracle that took place at the Red Sea .  The Egyptian army was drowned in the sea as its waters were being filled up again.  Again we see the miraculous in the midst of a tough time.                

 

Reading verse 30 we see that the children of Israel marched around Jericho for seven full days, all along believing in God who would help them win the battle against this city, which they did.  Seven whole days of marching seems like a lot of marching.  I think the temptation to give up would have been a tough temptation to fight off, but those Jews trusted the Word of the Lord.  Again, faith is something that is tested.  The fulfillment of the Word of the Lord often takes time and it is during that time when we see who has faith and who does not have faith.   

 

In verse 31 we see that even a prostitute who trusted in the God of Israel, at least for a moment was spared destruction.  Many Bible teachers believe the Rahab mentioned in Matthew 1:5 in the genealogy of Jesus is this Rahab.  If this is so, then her faith led her into the children of God through marriage.  That means that a prostitute was in the lineage of Jesus.  How interesting that is. 

 

In verse 32 and following the writer of the book of Hebrews says that he could go on in listing more examples of people of faith, but time and space would not allow him to keeping adding more examples.  He says that these peopleís weaknesses were turned into strength because they trusted in God.  This is one Biblical principle.  We are weak but God is strong.  He does and will use our weaknesses for His glory and to accomplish His will in our lives and in the world.  There is no doubt about that.  Of course, we must first admit that we are weak, something in our positive thinking, good confession Christian world, is seldom seen today.  We would rather do the opposite and boast ourselves up.  Yes, in Christ, we can be strong.  We can admit to that but far too often when we make that admission, we're not building of Jesus but ourselves.     

 

In verse 35 it says that some men and women in Old Testament times were tortured and killed.  They would rather die trusting God than to live and not trust Him.  You might ask, "Why would God allow someone to die as they trusted Him?"  Stephen in the book of Acts is a prime example of this.  As Stephen passed from life into death, he trusted His Lord every step of the way.  Anyone who dies in faith believes that there is something better for them in the next life.  That's why the author speaks here of a better resurrection.  For the believer, life after death is far more wonderful than this life.

 

Verse 36 continues on by saying that some of these people received floggings and were put into prison.  This clearly shows that even though you trust in God, life is not always easy.  Western Christianity often suggests that if we have faith in Jesus, things will go great for us.  This is not Biblical thinking.  

 

The list goes on concerning all the hardships that some of these people went through.  In verse 39 it says that even though these people had great faith, they did not receive what they were promised before they died.  This should tell us that we donít trust in Jesus for what we can get from Him.  We trust Him because He is worthy of our trust, and thatís it.  These people will eventually get what was promised, because if God promises something, He will bring it to pass. 

 

Note that one of the persecutions listed was being sawed in half.  Rabbinical tradition states that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah died in this fashion.  It would be a rough way to die.    

 

The writer closes the chapter by saying that these people in Old Testament times did not receive what they trusted God for.  They would be made perfect, or complete. The word "us" refers to New Testament believers.  Therefore, we are united with the people of Old Testament times through a common faith.  Our faith, or our trust concerning salvation, which includes all of the Old Testament promises spoken to Abraham, will be realized and when it is realized, it will include both New and Old Testament believers.  Both groups are people of faith in the one and only true God in the universe.  For the New Testament believer, our faith is based on more clarity than that of Old Testament believers, but still, in the long run, both have faith in God, and faith in God in what is important. 

 

I would suggest that the main theme of this chapter is that we must have faith in God.  We must trust Him in whatever life brings our way, and, just because we have faith in God does not mean will get what we want all of the time immediately after we ask.  Faith is tested through time.  It's that simple.    

 

One last thing I will say about this chapter is that all these people that the author commends for having great faith were ordinary people.  Yes, they were esteemed by the Jews, but all of them had their faults.  Therefore, even though these people trusted God, their trust did waver at times, but that did not nullify their faith and neither will it nullify the things God had promised them.         

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